NEWS

Defamation Laws Apply

We are firmly committed to free speech, but it is responsible speech that we should focus on. This is why the Media Industry Development Authority (MIDA) is so important, says
23 Mar 2015 17:05
Defamation Laws Apply

We are firmly committed to free speech, but it is responsible speech that we should focus on.

This is why the Media Industry Development Authority (MIDA) is so important, says its chairman Ashwin Raj.

Mr Raj’s comments follows recent allegations made against a business woman on social media in what appears to be cyberbullying.

The comments are now being investigated by Police.

Mr Raj said the abuse of social media undermined and eroded its democratic potential.

“In this age of digital democracy, we need to address several issues. The relationship between freedom of expression and the law. Trial by the media, particularly the social media, remains a major issue,” he said.

“Too often, individuals are discriminated against on social media because they hear that someone is in trouble with the law.

“Instead of allowing the legal system to do its job, bloggers take to social media to put the individual on trial. Social media cannot be the sole adjudicator of the law and its transgressions,” Mr Raj said.

He said the other important issue surrounding social media was who corroborated the facts.

“Factual inaccuracies are further compounded by the absence of a lack of balance and the right of reply,” Mr Raj said.

“Furthermore, why would those who have been vilified by the social media want to tell their side of the story through that medium even if they are invited to respond?

“What guarantee is there that there will not be any further reputational damage?

“Some public commentators and politicians claim that our media is not independent, but exactly how independent are these blogsites?”

He said that there was a need to relook at absence of laws governing social media.

“This must not be misconstrued as an attempt to muzzle freedom of expression. If that was the intention, blogs like Fijileaks would have been blocked a long time ago,” Mr Raj said.

“We, as a nation, need to pause and reflect and let the judicial system carry out its work independently rather putting individuals on trial through social media.

“However, it is equally important to note that defamation laws that govern mainstream media like print, broadcast also can be used when looking at cases of social media.

“In general terms, defamation is a civil action whereby people who think their reputation has been lowered in the estimation of right thinking members of society can sue someone who writes or says something defamatory about them.

“There is nothing in the Crimes Decree that covers defamation because it is a civil action and not a criminal action, therefore the State would not be involved in a defamation action.

“The State, however, will prosecute people who may have committed other offences under the Crimes Decree like incitement to racial hatred or incitement to commit a criminal offence.

That would only occur after a Police investigation.”

Feedback: aqela.susu@fijisun.com.fj

 




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